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An Examination Of Cultures Where Rape is Prevalent

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According to Pearson’s article, “College is a big sex fest. Put a few thousand men and women into an unpatrolled area with no parental authority and you are going to have sex.” (Pearson, 2000). Fear of sexual violence constrains women’s lives in many ways. Underlying that fear is a set of widely shared cultural discourses which define women as physically vulnerable, assuming women are incapable of protecting themselves and others; stress the ubiquity of male sexual predators, and holding women responsible for avoiding such predators. “I did not realize that every boy that I met inspired fear in me, so I kept myself safe by having either unattainable crushes or hooking up with boys I knew I could control.” (Pearson, 2000). The purpose of this analysis is to explore the various rape-prone cultures such as, college campuses that leave women fearful of men and life.

Rape is the common cold of society. Although rape is much more serious than the common cold, the systems are the same. We have assimilated rape into everyday culture much as we have the cold. Like the folklore surrounding the common cold, there is folklore about rape, like the notion that if a woman wears revealing clothing or goes to a bar alone, she is likely to ‘get raped.’ But in fact a woman is no more likely to be raped from these activities than from simply dating a man or being home alone. And, there is silence surrounding the recognition that we live in a cultural environment where rape is endemic. “Situations like this are normal, endemic to the dating scene.” (Pearson, 2000).

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In the controversial book, A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion, Thornhill and Palmer use evolutionary biology to explain the causes of rape. According to Thornhill and Palmer, “evolved adaptation of some sort gives rise to rape; the main evolutionary question is whether rape is an adaptation itself or a by-product of other adaptations.” (Thornhill and Palmer, 2000). Also, “Regardless, rape circumvents a central feature of women’s reproductive strategy: mate choice. This is a primary reason why rape is devastating to its victims, especially young women.” (Thornhill and Palmer, 2000). Their recommendations for rape prevention include teaching young males not to rape, punishing rape more severely, and studying the effectiveness of chemical castration. “Rape could cease to exist only in a society knowledgeable about its evolutionary causes.” (Thornhill and Palmer, 2000).

Rape is on the rise in the college population and is the most common crime on college campuses in America today. Andrea Dworkin from Pearson’s magazine says, “Not only is rape a barbaric crime of power and hate, it is THE most effective method of perpetuating the patriarchal system. Not only does rape exert power, it terrorizes and intimidates and then works to shame the victims in order to keep them quiet and non-confrontational.” (Pearson, 2002). Research reports that rape is one of the biggest problems on college campuses and there needs to be further improvement of prevention programs. According to Perspectives on College Sexual Assault: Perpetrator, Victim, and Bystander, “The analysis of fear among college women is important because college campuses are no longer ‘insulated’ enclaves, but places where crime and sexual violence are ever present.” (Maiuro, 2015).

It is more common for a college student to be raped by an acquaintance than by a stranger. Unlike acquaintances, strangers use weapons and force more often causing their victims to seek help thus reporting the rape. The rapes that are done by an offender the victim knows are generally not reported. Most college women who are victims of rape or attempted rape know their offender personally. According to a study in The Truth About Rape, “82 percent of women raped or sexually assaulted in 1992-1993 by a single offender were victimized by a spouse, ex-spouse, partner, friend, acquaintance, or relative.” (Kittelson, 2005). “Because I want him to like me and I want Nick to be jealous and I want to be popular and sexy,” (Pearson, 2000). Most acquaintance rapes do not occur on dates. They most frequently occur at a party, or studying together in a dorm. Also, more expected from individuals who are seeking for acceptance and popularity by male figures. Alcohol also may possibly increase the likelihood of these actions. Pearson says, “Maybe because with a little chemical flowing through my blood I can convince myself to kiss and fondle like a good girl. I can convince myself that I want this like all of the boys say I do.” (Pearson, 2000).

“The prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses and the prevalence of what Peggy Reeves Sanday calls ‘rape-prone culture’ have been hot-button issues for young women activists since the late 1980s and early 1990s, when a constellation of events brought the subject to the forefront of the public consciousness.” (IRIS, 2005). Rape culture suggests that rape is simply a matter of miscommunication, that ‘date rape’ isn’t ‘real rape’, that women frequently lie about being sexually assaulted for vengeance or shame; make it difficult for bystanders to justify intervening and for some victims to understand that their experience was a crime. Also, rape culture gives rapists plausible excuses for their actions, making it a slim chance of being able to hold them accountable, especially when members of the campus administration buy into these myths as well.

Recently research has found evidence that there is an increase in sexual assault activity among males in fraternities. Fraternities represent a brotherhood but their values of being a member can be detrimental to women. Fraternity members are even further instilled with the notion that being a man is being string and aggressive. Pearson quotes a personal story, “We drunkenly went to my room, kicked my roommate out and went for it. I had never, ever been in a situation so aggressive in my life.” (Pearson, 2000). Fraternities seek males who are generally athletic, competitive, and also who are willing to drink alcohol. Alcohol use and partying are cornerstones of fraternity’s social life. New members are evaluated on how many women they can have sex with. A disproportionate number of documented gang rapes involve these members. Fraternities are free from public interference just like the home in the private realm. According to Fraternities and Rape on Campus, “The ability to use alcohol without scrutiny by authorities and alcohol’s frequent association with violence, including sexual coercion, facilitates rape in fraternity houses.” (Martin and Hummer, 2009). Some men may possibly be inclined to harm others, but whether they do is related to their opportunities. The right context can offer these men an opening to do so. Peggy Sanday first recognized the role that context plays in facilitating rape. Studying fraternity parties, she found that some are generative of risk and others are less so. Parties that feature things like loud music, few sitting arrangement, dancing, drinking, and compulsory flirting are known as rape prone. In these more dangerous occasions, rape culture camouflages predatory behavior like plying women with alcohol, making it look normal.

Modern college rape prevention programs may be insufficient because they are focused on the victims and not the offenders. Most rapes are unreported, perhaps giving campus administrators and police the false impression that current efforts are adequate. According to a journal from Contemporary Womens Issues, “Although the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act was passed in its original form in 1990, major concerns about compliance with the act’s provisions regarding confidentiality policies and public disclosures have arisen on campuses across the country.” (IRIS, 2005). In addition, campus police may be influenced by college administrators who fear that too strong an emphasis on the problem may lead potential students and their parents to believe that rape occurs more often at their college than at others. Prevention programs need to focus more on educating both men and women. Programs, especially for men that focus on rape reduction should be mandatory on college campuses. Acquaintance rape prevention programs should be tailored to focus on the specific risks for fraternity members and athletes.

Due to this, college women in particular are at heightened fear of being raped for a number of reasons. Although not all women engage in risky behavior, a large number of college women consume alcohol or drugs that lower their inhibitions and defenses. College women are also often in an unfamiliar environment, and may be unaware of how to navigate situations with strangers. The fear of rape differs for each context, specifically stranger rape versus date rape. It is commonly thought that most women fear rape because of the shadow effect; one could hypothesize that women fear rape because they fear being victimized in any way.

In conclusion, rape-prone cultures such as, college campuses inhibit an enormous amount of rape victims and women fearful of men and life. According to The Truth About Rape, “In 2005, the National College Women Sexual Victimization Study estimated that between 20 and 25 percent of college women experienced completed or attempted rape during their college years.” (Kittleson, 2005). More and more survivors of sexual assault are speaking out publicly, helping to lessen the stigma long associated with rape victims. Although the prevalence of sexual victimization reported by college women is alarming, past research on college women has not consistently shown prior rape or sexual assault to impact this fear of rape. However, the effect of victimization by an acquaintance disappeared controlling for a measure of campus danger.


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